Cards take Game 1

What elbow problems? Chris Carpenter silenced the doubters who suggested that his elbow injury might limit his ability to shut down the high powered Texas Rangers offense on Wednesday night. When it was all said and done, Carpenter allowed just 5 hits and walked 1 over 6 innings. Two runs were all that the Rangers managed to put on the board, those on a one runner on mistake that Mike Napoli crushed in the top of the 5th.

The tone of the night was set early. Ian Kinsler singled to lead off the game. Kinsler, one of the two 30-30 guys this season, was caught by Yadier Molina after Elvis Andrus whiffed on an attempted hit-and-run. And it didn’t even look like Molina tried. It seemed effortless.

The Cardinals offense got the action going in the bottom of the 4th. Rangers starter C.J. Wilson had his moments, but was mostly inconsistent from the mound. That was illustrated by a pitch that bounced well before the plate and hit Albert Pujols in the shin. Then Matt Holliday doubled to give Lance Berkman an RBI opportunity in his second plate appearance of the World Series. With men on second and third, Berkman singled to right field allowing Pujols and Holliday to score easily. 2-0 Cardinals.

The Rangers answered quickly in the top of the 5th. Adrian Beltre singled to right field himself. Then a mistake to Mike Napoli was parked in the right field bleachers. That quickly evened it up, 2-2.

It was Allen Craig, pinch hitting for Chris Carpenter with two out in the bottom of the 6th, that broke up the tie game. David Freese hit a one-out double and then Nick Punto was walked to put men on first and second with the pitcher’s spot due up. This was to make Tony LaRussa pull Carpenter and go to the bullpen. The gamble is, of course, that the pinch hitter does nothing.

Tony LaRussa went with the hook and sent Allen Craig up to the plate with two outs in a tie game in the World Series. No problem with pinch hitting or coming off the bench or the pressure situation, Craig hit a line drive down the line that Nelson Cruz nearly caught with a slide. The ball bounced out of Cruz’s glove, allowing Freese to come around to score the go-ahead run. The Cardinals were now up 3-2 with 9 outs remaining, as us UCBers on Twitter have taken to tracking games by.

With Carpenter out of the game, LaRussa called upon Fernando Salas for his first choice out of the bullpen. While Adrian Beltre grounded out to start the inning off, Salas quickly found himself in trouble with a Nelson Cruz single and a Mike Napoli walk. Was the bullpen starting to show it’s first cracks from it’s heavy use in the National League Championship Series? That was the question at the forefront of Cardinals’ fans minds as LaRussa made the walk out to the mound to bring in left hander Marc Rzepczynski to face the left handed David Murphy.

In a counter move, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington went to his bench with Craig Gentry, a right handed hitter to eliminate the lefty-lefty matchup. It didn’t matter. Rzepczynski would use 7 pitches and strike out Gentry and Esteban German who pinch hit for Rangers pitcher Alexi Ogando.

To start the 8th inning, in came Octavio Dotel. He got Ian Kinsler to ground out and then struck out Elvis Andrus before Tony trotted back out to the mound with another change. In came left hander Arthur Rhodes, in his first World Series (ironically matched up between the two teams he played for this year), to face Josh Hamilton. He got Hamilton to fly out to center field and we were on to the 9th. Three outs remained between the Cardinals and a Game 1 win and early lead in the World Series.

In came the pitcher who just happens to typically come in in the 9th inning of games when it’s a save situation, Jason Motte. Some teams would call him the closer. Motte slammed the door shut on the Rangers, keeping his impressive streak of playoff performance alive. Motte has faced 25 batters over 8 innings of work this post-season and has allowed just 1 base runner.

Carpenter becomes the first Cardinals pitcher to earn a quality start in the playoffs since himself. That would be that complete game shutout that he hurled in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series against Philadelphia.

There was some debate about whether Ron Washington managed his game properly or whether he was trying to out-manage LaRussa. Personally, I think Washington managed the game well. The worst part of it was really that he took a few gambles that didn’t pay off.

First, running on Molina in the top of the first was a huge gamble. It can be a huge momentum turner but, while Kinsler has some speed and steals bases at a better than 86% clip, if you mess the play up you end up turning the tables. In the end, Chris Carpenter gets out of lead off hit and the St. Louis crowd explodes.

Second, walking Nick Punto in the 6th was designed to get Chris Carpenter out of the game. Now, granted Punto did hit .350 with 2 outs and runners in scoring position this season, but I think you need to go after him. For one, you can be sure you’re getting only a base-hit if he gets a hit, after all he’s only hit 14 home runs in 11 major league seasons. Making the Cardinals bullpen work is one of the keys to the series for me for the Rangers, but with Allen Craig being the first man off the bench in those situations, I don’t (intentionally) walk Punto to force that. Especially when Carpenter wasn’t all that sharp tonight. Plus, you may have seen a pinch hitter anyway if Punto had reached.

The third is one that many others have questioned, using Esteban German to pinch hit with two on and two out in the 7th rather than Yorvit Torrealba. While Torrealba hit just .256 against left handed pitchers like Rzepczynski, German (who has hit .292 against left handed pitchers in his career) hadn’t taken at at bat since September 25th. I think Washington made the right decision there. You have to expect that each player on your bench can equally perform to their averages whenever you want to use them.

Trying to take the crowd out of it early and trying to get the Cardinals to use their bullpen, both are things that you’ve got to do to win while on the road. You hope you can catch a reliever on a bad night and capitalize on a mistake. Unfortunately for the Rangers, it didn’t work out for them.

Winning Game 1 puts the Cardinals at a huge advantage as far as history shows. In 13 of the 16 World Series’ in the Wild Card era, the winner of Game 1 has gone on to win the series. When the home team wins Game 1, they’ve won the series every year since 1993. Good news for the Cardinals, but while history shows it will be a difficult road for the Rangers, it’s never over until it’s over.

Game 2 will matchup the Rangers’ Colby Lewis against the Cardinals’ Jaime Garcia.

Lewis is 1-1 in two postseason starts for the Rangers this season. He threw six one-hit innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in a 4-3 win, unfortunately that hit was a solo home run. Against the Detroit Tigers just over a week ago, he allowed 8 hits and 4 earned runs in 5.2 innings in a 5-2 loss. In the final two months of the season, Lewis was 4-2 with a 5.23 ERA, which could bode well for the Cardinals.

Only 5 current Cardinals have faced Lewis before. Lance Berkman has 13 plate appearances against him, hitting just twice. Gerald Laird is 3-for-8, Nick Punto is 0-for-1, Ryan Theriot is 2-for-2, and Albert Pujols is 1-for-1.

Garcia is 0-2 in three starts for the Cardinals in the playoffs. He allowed just 1 run in 4.2 innings in Game 5 of the NLCS, a game the Cardinals won, but was given a quick hook when the fifth inning began shaping up like that of Game 1 where Prince Fielder hit a go-ahead home run off of him. The advantage for Garcia is that he will be pitching at home, where he is a much more confident pitcher. Garcia finished the season off going 3-2 with a 4.58 ERA in the final two months of the season.

Only 2 current Rangers have faced Garcia before. Coincidentally, their two backup catchers. Matt Treanor, who was just added to the roster for the World Series is 1-for-4 against Garcia with 3 strikeouts. Yorvit Torrealba is 0-for-2.

The question for Garcia and the Cardinals is how will he handle the Rangers. According to ESPN’s Team Stats, the Rangers led the league with a .282 batting average against left handed pitchers and were second in slugging percentage at .459. Garcia also struggles against left handed hitters, allowing them to hit .308 with a .418 slugging percentage. The Rangers have a premier left handed hitter in Josh Hamilton. They also have David Murphy who has had a great postseason so far.

This is the game that I predicted to be a slugfest. Unfortunately, I think the Rangers are better suited for that type of game and will win Game 2, taking us to Arlington tied up at 1 game a piece.

The game is once again scheduled for an 8:05 pm Eastern start on FOX.

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A tale of two starters

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Chris Carpenter v. Roy Halladay. While it may be the Game 5 pitching matchup for the National League Divisional Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies, it also shows the fortunes of the Toronto Blue Jays. In fact, a quick thought indicates three Blue Jays draft picks pitching in NL Divisional Series’ (Shaun Marcum in Milwaukee would be the other).

Drafted in the first round of the 1993 amateur draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, Chris Carpenter was fresh out of high school. He was joined in the Blue Jays’ minor league system two years later by Roy Halladay, who was also drafted in the first round as well. Carpenter and Halladay were supposed to be the Blue Jays’ 1-2 punch in the rotation, with Carpenter as the #1, as they flew to success in the American League East.

Going into the 2002 season their hopes were high. The 26-year-old Chris Carpenter and the 24-year-old Roy Halladay were poised to take over their roles at the top of the rotation. With Luke Prokopec and Brandon Lyon as young guys set for the rotation, the team had high hopes for their pitching staff and an offensive lineup that included Carlos Delgado, Orlando Hudson, Eric Hinske, Shannon Stewart, and Vernon Wells.

Hinske would win the American League Rookie of the Year that year, hitting .279 with 24 HR and 84 RBI.

Halladay, in his first full season in the major league rotation, would post a 2.93 ERA and 19 wins for the Blue Jays.

Carpenter, who won 11 games in 2001 with a 4.09 ERA, was the team’s opening day starter and was supposed to be their #1 starter. Instead, he started just 13 games in 2002. He hit the disabled list three times for shoulder issues. He would have shoulder surgery in September that ended his season and would cut into his 2003 season. When Toronto removed him from their 40 man roster, they offered him a minor league deal with incentives. Chris Carpenter declined.

Chris Carpenter

The Blue Jays loss was the Cardinals’ gain. The Cardinals signed Chris Carpenter to a contract for 2003 with an option for 2004 in the hopes that he’d be ready for midseason of 2003. The Cardinals paid him the major league minimum, but apparently were one of the few teams that were willing to give him a major league contract. Shoulder problems, as a pitcher, can typically be a death sentence. Hence, the Blue Jays’ action to remove him from the roster.

Carpenter would miss all the 2003 season, but he would show his potential in 2004 as he posted a career year. He wasted no time establishing himself as the Cardinals’ ace. He started 28 games and won 15 of them with a 3.46 ERA for the Cardinals as he helped lead them to a 105 win season. The Cardinals would make their first World Series appearance since 1987, but Carpenter would miss it. Again with arm problems, this time a nerve issue in his right bicep.

In 2005 he established himself, not just as the Cardinals’ ace, but as one of the best pitchers in the National League as he posted a 2.83 ERA, had a 21-5 record, led the league in complete games, and won the National League Cy Young Award.

Since he donned a Cardinals uniform for the first time, he has been the pitcher the Blue Jays expected him to become. Unfortunately those injury issues would reappear as Carpenter made just 5 starts between the 2007 and 2008 seasons. The Cardinals, however, remained loyal to him. And why not? In his time in Cardinal red, Carpenter is 95-42 with a 3.06 ERA. He’s been a three-time All Star and finished in the top-3 in Cy Young voting three times.

After twirling a 2 hit shutout of the Houston Astros on the final night of the regular season to put the Cardinals into the 2011 Major League Baseball Playoffs, Carpenter started Game 2 against Cliff Lee on short rest. Unable to settle in on the mound, Carpenter allowed 4 runs on 5 hits and 3 walks over 3 innings. The Cardinals, however, were able to come back and win the game. With a Game 4 win last night, the Cardinals set up this matchup of former Blue Jays.

Roy Halladay

After that 2002 season, Roy Halladay wasted no time taking over that top spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation. In 2003 he would lead the major leagues with 22 wins and 36 games started. Combined with his 3.25 ERA and he would win the first of his two Cy Young Awards.

In 2004, he developed shoulder issues. The problem was discovered to have existed through most of the season due to a preseason workout regimine. That would explain his 4.20 ERA in 21 starts, the worst season of his major league career.

In 2005, Halladay would again miss a portion of the season. This time it was a line drive that broke his leg shortly before the All Star break that would force him to miss the remainder of the season.

For his next four years in a Blue Jays uniform, Halladay was solid. He went 69-33 from 2006 to 2009 along with a 3.11 ERA. He threw over 220 innings in each of those seasons. You can’t ask for much more of a workhorse than what Halladay gave the Blue Jays.

After the 2009 season, the Blue Jays knew they weren’t going to be able to retain Halladay through his free agency at the end of the season and ultimately traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies for some prospects.

The Blue Jays

Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, they were never able to capitalize on their 1-2 punch. Carpenter spent the good part of his career in a Cardinals uniform and Halladay never had the right supporting cast around him.

The Blue Jays won 87 games in 2006 and finished second in the American League East. That was their best season through that run.

The organization is now working on 18 consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance. Their last time, 1993, they won the World Series.

As a young Canadian kid (though I was living in North Carolina at the time), I’d been raised with the Toronto Blue Jays. Joe Carter was my favorite player. I can still remember my parents letting me stay up past my bedtime to watch the games of that World Series (heh, I just aged myself). Then what else happens, but Joe Carter going deep with a walk-off three run home run to win the Blue Jays’ second consecutive World Series.

The NLDS

Back to 2011. Here stands Chris Carpenter as the de facto ace for the Cardinals without Adam Wainwright. On the other side stands Roy Halladay, the ace of a staff full of aces. At stake is a berth in the NLCS and a chance at the 2011 World Series.

For the Blue Jays, it was supposed to be Carpenter and Halladay giving them the chance at the World Series, but now they face each other, pitching for other teams, trying to get them there instead.

How things can go so wrong.

Cardinals prepare for playoffs

What fans didn’t give up on the Cardinals season? You had a good portion who mailed in the Cardinals’ chances when it was announced that Adam Wainwright was due to have Tommy John surgery. Another portion who called it quits after a sweep by the Dodgers in August left the Cardinals 10 games out of the NL Central race. Yet another who saw the writing on the wall after walking away from a September series with the Brewers 8.5 games out of the Central and 6 games out of the Wild Card.  Then me. Who decided it was all over on September 26th after they lost in extra innings to the Astros.

We all know what happened next.

Injuries plagued the Braves down the stretch as they lost their top two starting pitchers, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, for the month of September. Many call it a choke, but just realize how many fans considered the Cardinals’ chances over when Wainwright was injured. Imagine if we lost Carpenter too.

Game 1 is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon at 5 o’clock in Philadelphia. Kyle Lohse will be on the mound and he carries a career record of 3-4 with a 3.43 ERA against the Phillies, but all three wins come at Citizen’s Bank Park. Beyond the Cardinals and the Rays, Lohse is best against the Phillies. This season, he’s 1-1 with a 1.76 ERA against the “other” red team. In his only start at Citizen’s Bank Park this year he threw 7.1 innings and was tagged with just 1 unearned run. That was just about two weeks ago.

Game 2 looks to be Chris Carpenter working on just three days rest from his dominating two-hitter against Houston on the final day of the season. The move would set him up to go in Game 5 if need be.

For the Cardinals, you have to think positive about their chances, or at least I do. This season they’ve gone 6-3 against the Phillies, 9-9 against the Brewers (5-1 in last two series’ against them, and 4-3 against the Diamondbacks. So they are .500 or better against each of the other playoff teams in their league. The only other team in the playoffs who can say that is the Tigers.

The Cardinals have some definite question marks with Matt Holliday and Rafael Furcal. However, you don’t lose much performance with Allen Craig on the field and defense is priority number one for the Cardinals at short stop, Nick Punto and Daniel Descalso can provide that well enough.

The interesting news today was that Kyle McClellan will likely be left off of the NLDS roster for the Cardinals. The club said that he has been suffering from a condition they called “dead arm.” Also the news that both Edwin Jackson and Jake Westbrook will not only make the roster, but be available in relief. Color me surprised.

Now, I didn’t know that McClellan was having arm issues, but he has been struggling with performance lately. I figured Edwin Jackson was going to get a start. Meanwhile Westbrook has struggled a bit lately and I expected him to be the one left off the roster in favor of a position player.

If I had my way, it would be a position player who brought some speed to the table like Tyler Greene or Adron Chambers. And honestly, having them both would be a benefit to this team. And instead of Westbrook, I’d be bringing along Eduardo Sanchez. I’m much more confident in Sanchez’s ability to get the job done out of the bullpen in a high leverage situation than I am about Jake Westbrook, who would be making his first relief appearance since April 19, 2004.

But, I’m not the manager (though I’d love an opportunity, Mr. Mozeliak give me a call!)

Either way, I’ll be glued to my couch and the TV as I root on the St. Louis Cardinals with everything I have over what I hope will be a prolonged playoff run.

Jerry’s 2011 End of Year Cards Top 7 Prospects

The UCB is doing a Top 7 Prospect listing so I thought I would throw in my 2 cents.  The Cards prospects have taken a big step forward this year with so many prospects taking a big step forward and some jumping from the lower minors to AA and beyond.  Narrowing down to the Top 7 wasn’t easy and to me there can be an major argument for many players from #5-7.  I will talk about my ranking philosophy, explain my Tier system and then get into my prospect ranking.

 Prospect Ranking Philosophy

I have always been someone that values upside over readiness but not to the extreme.  There is a lot to be said for producing in the upper minors.  I take a look at all the tools, performance, video, respected analyst and scout opinions and then my personal “gut” feeling.  I ranked CMart my #2 prospect over Cox coming into the season and have spoken extremely highly of Taveras for a year and a half now.  I have gotten a lot of criticism for those 2 things but I stick with my guns.

Prospect Tier System

I use a Bird(s) system to explain my Prospect Tiers and the Cards overall system.  I started doing this near the end of last year to give a fair representation to prospects acrossed organizations and to look back at Cards prospects from past years to have an easier system to compare them to the recent crop of prospects.

5 Birds – The elite of prospects. These prospects will be stars in the bigs AND have enough body of work in the minors to justify the top rating. From a category perspective this would be a rare rating if the system had quite a few 5 Birds Rating. Basically the elite of elite in a category.
4 Birds – Prospects that will have a solid body of work in the minors and will be above avg players in the bigs OR prospects with the upside of a 5 Birds Rating but not enough service time in the minors to justify the rating. From a category perspective this would be a category with a number of 4 and 5 Birds Ratings players. It would require a balance of depth and stardom.
3 Birds – Prospects that will be a regular in the bigs but won’t be a significant piece to the ball club. These prospects won’t be All-Stars nor will they be top of the rotation or middle of the order players. From a category perspective this would be a middle of the road category with few 4-5 Birds Rating players and plenty of 2-3 Birds Ratings.
2 Birds – Prospects that will be role players in the bigs. These prospects will bounce around from AAA to the bigs and most likely will play for many franchises over the years if they are fortunate enough to stick around. From a category perspective this would be many role/utility type players in the category with little to no star power.
1 Bird – Prospects that will be career minor leagues and may get a cup of coffee in the bigs. From a category perspective this is the ultimate insult. If you get a 1 Bird in any category you basically have very few players in the category that could even be role players in the bigs.

2011 Cards End of Year Top 7 Prospects

Now to what everyone is waiting for…the always talked about prospect ranking!  After the name of the prospect in parenthesis was my beginning of the year ranking and after his position is his Bird Tier Rating.  I also excluded any prospect that was promoted prior to September (Sanchez, Lynn, etc) even though technically many still qualify.  Let’s jump right in…

1)  Shelby Miller (1)- RHP – 5 Birds
Miller is just about everything you want in a pitching prospect…you have the size and frame, you have the mentality, you have the FB, you have the makings of a very good to great CB and CH and you have the results to back it up.  The knocks on Miller are his focus (some off the field troubles in-season) and his use of secondary stuff.  I am not worried about his secondary stuff as I have seen enough video that shows he just needs to continue to use and refine those pitches and I have no doubt it will happen.  His upside is a true ACE and anyone that knows me I am bullish on using that term.  Many consider him a Top 5 prospect at this point and there is a good argument that he is the best SP prospect in baseball.
2)  Carlos Martinez (2) – RHP – 4.5Birds
Martinez is on everyone’s radar after the year he had.  I was bullish on him being my #2 prospect coming into the season as his command was known to be pin point for his age and it didn’t hurt he consistently hit upper 90’s even late in games…but he hadn’t pitched an inning on American soil.  Well he came over to start the year and showed by everyone should be excited about him.  His FB and command were as advertised and his breaking ball shows flashes of at least a plus pitch.  His arm angle is ideal for a CH and he showed better consistency as the year went along.  His delivery seems fairly smooth (I am no pitching mechanics/delivery expert by any means) and is arm action doesn’t show any red flags.  I try to hold my expectations down just a touch so I see upside as a legit #1 starter but not quite an ACE (and yes…I think there is a difference).
3)  Oscar Taveras (15) – OF – 4 Birds
As I was high on Taveras for the past year and a half I also knew he was still very young and raw.  He grew up quickly this year (though he had a few hamstring injuries this year) as he is currently trying to lead the River Bandits to the Midwest League Championship.  When you hit .386 with an OBP of .444 for the year people start talking a lot about you.  He doesn’t walk much though he worked on that in the 2nd half of the season and did improve on strike zone judgement that will only help him as he progresses through the season.  His hit tool is off the charts for his age.  He seems to square up every ball he hits.  His power is quite there yet but is projectable to be a 20 HR guy or better.  His speed is there though he isn’t a burner.  He can handle all 3 OF positions with good arm strength and if he is able to stay in CF that just increases his overall value.  I see a middle of the order bat that plays good D if everything works out.
4)  Zack Cox (3) – 3B – 4 Birds
First off it is not “Zach” it is “Zack”…for some reason I see many people spelling his name wrong.  I was not sold on him coming into the year as a 4 Birds rating but he showed why he should be upgraded to one with his effort this year between Palm Beach and Springfield.  He is not your prototypical 3B that can mash but I do see more power coming as he continues to rise through the system (look at his 2nd half for evidence).  Another knock on him is the defensive ability at 3B…which is a very valid point but I have seen Brett Wallace and Zack Cox at 3B multiple times…and why they get the same comparison is beyond me.  Cox is a better 3B than Wallace was on his best days…and thats not saying its a guarantee he sticks at 3B either.  He is a very smart player and hitter and knows how to use the whole field.  He seems to always take a little time to adjust to each level but once he gets its he starts hitting, hitting and hitting some more.  His power is a hot topic but he has shown he has that power tucked away somewhere but he is more of a 15 HR guy than a 30 HR guy in the future.  I see an above avg overall player that will contribute in the middle of the order somewhere.
5)  Matt Adams (NR) – 1B – 3.5 Birds
Adams sure did who everyone that he can hit for avg and power this year.  He had a great year and is starting to get a little bit of National recognition as a prospect.  His fate as a Cardinal will be with Pujols’ contact situation this offseason as he is only a 1B.  As a 1B you get pressure to be an elite hitter to be competitive just at your own position.  I am not sure I see Adams as an elite hitter once he arrives but a .290ish hitter that will hit between 25-30 HR’s is realistic.  That is quite productive.
6)  Jordan Swagerty (19) – RHP – 3.5 Birds
I will admit that I never saw Swagerty as a starter but what he showed this year I am starting to believe he could be and my ranking of him represents that.  And don’t be misled by his move to the bullpen later in the year as that was a move to limit his innings.  He has a plus FB and CB and should start the year in Springfield in 2012 which could put him in the mix for a call up late in 2013 if all goes well.  His upside is a #2 starter or a closer type reliever.  Everything will depend on how his CH continues to develop but count me in as buying into the hype as a starter.
7)  Tyrell Jenkins (6) – RHP – 3.5 Birds
I ranked Jenkins quite high on my beginning of the year rankings as his upside is quite exciting.  He is super athletic (could be the most athletic pitching in all of the minors) and is quite raw.  At JC this year he did show why we should be excited about him and signs that he is learning to pitch (which is a good sign as he was a million sport star in HS so he never had the opportunity to focus on any one sport).  He had a 4:1 K to BB ratio which is GREAT to see to start his career and he had 1 K/IP.  He has a hard sinking FB, SL and CH in his arsenal and reports say his secondary pitches are developing faster than expected.  Still a project and won’t be ready until late 2014 at best.  His upside is a very good #2 SP.
Just missed list:  Ryan Jackson (SS), Kolten Wong (2B) and Trevor Rosenthal (RHP)

Jon’s 2011 Cardinals All-Prospect Team

This is a post that I was interested in writing for quite some time. I’ve taken notes and considered my options. Some people do top prospect lists, like today you will find that this month’s UCB project is for us to do a top-7 prospects list. Instead of that, what I really wanted to do was identify my favorite player in the Cardinals’ system at each position in an All-Prospect team. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, many of these players are still a year or two away.

And so, with the Minor League playoffs pretty much done, I shall begin.

C Tony Cruz (.262, 4 HR, 25 RBI in 45 games at AAA Memphis) – Tony Cruz is my catcher. The 25 year old 26th round draft pick made a mark for me this season in his limited playing time in St. Louis. When Gerald Laird went down with an injury, it was Cruz that stepped into his shoes as the backup catcher and got the job done, hitting .258 in 34 appearances with the big league club. He got a September callup and I would place him as the odds on favorite to potentially be the full-time backup catcher next season for the Cardinals. It would be a cost savings over Laird and Cruz has proven himself both with the bat and the glove. The fact that Carpenter and Cruz were paired up and were successful speaks volumes about Cruz and puts him ahead of Bryan Anderson on my list.

1B Matt Adams (.300, 32 HR, 101 RBI in 115 games at AA Springfield) – Matt Adams made a name for himself this year in the Cardinals organization. He backed up a strong single-A season last year at Quad Cities with an even stronger season for the double-A Springfield team. At 23, Adams has shown that he can flat out hit. He was named the Texas League Player of the Year this year. For the Cardinals, Adams’ emergence means one of two things for the Cardinals. He provides a solid backup option in the event that Albert Pujols opts for free agency and another team. We have a slugging first baseman in the minors who can hit and while he’s not superman with the glove at first base, he is serviceable there. But if Pujols returns, he provides a valuable trade chip that many teams may be interested in acquiring, especially if he continues smacking the ball in Memphis next year.

2B Kolten Wong (.335, 5 HR, 25 RBI in 47 games at A Quad Cities) – Kolten Wong was the Cardinals’ first round draft pick this year and quickly established why the Cardinals viewed him so highly. He showed that he had an advanced bat for single-A and hit his way to a .335 batting average and featured an on base percentage over .400. While lower level numbers don’t mean as much because they are playing lesser competition, he has impressed me more than the other players. Pete Kozma had been moved to second base in Memphis and they demoted Donovan Solano to Springfield to get them both more playing time. To me, that means that neither is predicted to have much of a future in St. Louis. His defense left a little to be desired, but that can be attributed early on to adjusting to the game, the league, and the change in lifestyle. Most players improve as they develop.

SS Ryan Jackson (.278, 11 HR, 73 RBI in 135 games at AA Springfield) – Jackson had a solid year for the Cardinals and might be their solution at short stop in a couple years. He experienced a little bit of a breakout year in 2011 showing up with some power that he hadn’t previously shown at any level. Over the last few years his defense has been stepped up as well, which advances him ever closer to the major league roster. Jackson isn’t special, but he does seem to have the tools required to be a solid short stop. Those are in high demand in the major leagues today.

3B Zack Cox (.306, 13 HR, 68 RBI in 135 games between A+ Palm Beach and AA Springfield) – Zack Cox was the Cardinals’ 2010 first round draft pick and got his chance at the Arizona Fall League last year. Viewed as a rather advanced hitter, Cox has been a bit of a slow starter after each promotion. However, that hasn’t stopped him from turning in solid numbers overall. Cox is projected to have a bit more power than he’s shown, but from what I’ve read he is focusing more on getting hits and becoming a pure hitter rather than focusing on hitting for power. I love that approach. Plus, he showed up early for spring training this year to get some extra work in before the big names showed up. That plays nicely to Cardinals fans who enjoy a good, hard working player. With a major league contract already given to him, Cox burns up options every year he heads down to the minor leagues, so the team has incentives to get him to the majors as soon as possible.

LF Andrew Brown (.284, 20 HR, 73 RBI in 107 games for AAA Memphis) – Andrew Brown was one of the Cardinals’ minor league hands to get his first taste of major league action this year as he appeared in 11 games for the Cardinals. Unfortunately, he failed to really make a mark on the team, hitting just .182 during his time up. Brown can flat hit and from what I hear he has a gun for an arm. He’s got the power (no breaking into song, please). Though that arm might be better suited to right field, for some reason he has played infinitely better in left field. Why? Who knows. All I know is that the guy can hit and won’t usually embarras you with his defense. What more do you want?

CF Adron Chambers (.277, 10 HR, 44 RBI in 128 games for AAA Memphis) – Mr. Chambers is an exciting young talent for the Cardinals in the outfield. While he doesn’t have the star of a Colby Rasmus, Chambers has displayed the necessary tools to play at the major league level. He can hit for average, has a solid OBP, some speed, and plus defense. All that combines to a solid player who can truly play all three outfield positions. The only problem for him? He hits left handed, so he’s not going to make a mark as the right handed outfielder to spell Jon Jay in the outfield next season meaning that the Cardinals would prefer another player to fill the fourth outfielder role. I like everything that Chambers brings to the table, plus he has a cool sounding name.

RF Oscar Tavares (.386, 8 HR, 62 RBI in 78 games for A Quad Cities) – The 19 year old Tavares is young and that’s good. The Cardinals kept him in Quad Cities because they felt he had more things that he needed to work on refining before he got promoted, at least that was the official story. The unofficial one might be that they were having trouble dividing up playing time at Springfield and Memphis for outfielders because of their depth of solid talent there. Tavares is a bright star though, even with an adjusted batting average he won the league batting crown. He also got the majority of his playing time in RF this season and has played all three outfield spots. As he develops the next couple seasons his true potential will become clearer, but early response says that he could be a top of the order hitter, much like the guy I moved him for.

SP Shelby Miller (11-6, 2.77 ERA in 25 starts between A+ Palm Beach and AA Springfield) – At 20 years old there is no more exciting prospect in the Cardinals system than Shelby Miller, and I’m sure most would agree. If Miller puts the work in, there is almost no doubt that he will be a top level major league pitcher if he can put it together. After a suspension for violating team rules, Miller will need to work to stay away from off the field problems as well or that could further derail his speed through the Cardinals’ system. Through his time this season, Miller got promoted and got better, something that doesn’t necessarily always happen and didn’t happen to his fellow top prospect Carlos Martinez. If he keeps working on mixing up his speeds and his pitches his success will continue.

RP Jordan Swagerty (5-3, 1.83 ERA in 12 starts and 24 relief appearances between A Quad Cities, A+ Palm Beach, and AA Springfield) – Swagerty was one of the Cardinals’ big four picks from last season that saw them really begin to change their methodology when it came to selecting draft picks. While signability and cost was a factor in years previous, the Cardinals went after who they thought was the best talent and paid them what they needed to. While Swagerty started the season starting in the minor leagues, the organization moved him to the bullpen in order to limit his innings. There, he showed that he was more than capable. While he may be able to transition back into the starting role and the team will likely do that, his future role may be that of a reliever if he stays with the Cardinals organization. With the near future of the rotation looking to be Wainwright, Garcia, Miller, and Martinez that leaves one spot open that many other players will have first chance to claim. He’s moved through the system pretty quickly and has me excited about him.

The Cardinals have a lot of talent down in the minor league system. That’s a huge change from where they’ve been in recent years. While there is now a handful of top level talent in guys like Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, and Zack Cox, there are plenty of other guys who deserve note as well but won’t get the touting of the national media. Just because they don’t doesn’t mean they aren’t good. In fact, Matt Holliday never made a top prospect list before he broke out in the major leagues and we all know how great a player he is. The lists really mean nothing.

In the end most of the guys in the minor leagues have the necessary tools to be successful in the major leagues. It is a matter of opportunity and then putting it all together when they get there. Some guys capitalize on their opportunities, like Jon Jay. Others, like Tyler Greene, struggle to lay claim to a major league roster spot despite having it all figured out in the minor leagues. The Cardinals need to work on developing opportunities for these guys, more so than they have in the past because we actually have a solid system with true talent now.